Offseason Tracker and Analysis: Chicago White Sox

The White Sox couldn’t reel in Manny Machado or Bryce Harper last offseason, but since that money hasn’t been spent yet, perhaps it can be used to sign one of the top free agents this year. Patience is clearly running out for them, as their rebuild has yet to show any signs of progressing- this could be a boom-or-bust offseason for general manager Rick Hahn.

Expected Direction: Trying To Build a Playoff Contender For Next Season

White Sox Sign C Yasmani Grandal

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Photo Cred: Chicago Tribune

Result: Four Years, $73 Million

Grade: 8.5/10

In what is the largest contract in franchise history, the White Sox have made a massive splash, signing star catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year contract worth $73 million. Widely considered as one of, if not the best catcher in the MLB, Grandal has been as consistent as it gets over the past five seasons, posting a 4.1 WAR or better in each of those seasons. After betting on himself by taking a one-year contract last offseason with the Brewers, the 31-year-old proved to be brilliant, improving his walk rate to an amazing 17.2% clip en route to a 121 weighted-runs-created plus (wrc+) and 5.2 WAR. Additionally, Grandal also is an incredible defender behind the plate, posting a framing runs above average in the double-digits in every season since 2013. That framing, as well as his intangibles, will be excellent for Chicago’s group of young pitchers, and although catchers don’t tend to age gracefully, he’s shown no signs of slowing down and should remain one of the top catchers in the league even after he declines. It’s not a signing that comes without risk, but for a team that needed to add more plate discipline and offense, he’s a strong fit.

White Sox Resign 1B Jose Abreu

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Photo Cred: NBC Sports

Contract Details: Three Years, $50 Million

Grade: 5/10

After signing him to the $17.8 million qualifying offer, the White Sox resigned franchise favorite Jose Abreu to a three-year, $50 million contract. Essentially, this contract will replace the qualifying offer, so Chicago is really adding an extra two years at around the same rate. Seen as a move of loyalty, the White Sox have cited Abreu’s veteran leadership with the team’s Cuban players as reasons for the deal. Yet, when you’re a team without a massive budget, there needs to be on-field reasons for handing out a $50 million contract, and with Abreu, I struggle to see what they are. The 32-year-old has just a 116 wrc+ and 3.1 WAR over the past two seasons, and continues to see his plate discipline numbers regress in troubling fashion. Yes, his expected statistics are strong, but as a below-average defender at first base, he needs to be an elite offensive producer to warrant this contract. Now, the team blocks top first base prospect Andrew Vaughn, and overpays for an aging first baseman when they didn’t have to- he was already under contract for next season, and the team needed to wait to see how next season progressed (especially with Vaughn’s development) before making such a questionable move.

White Sox Acquire OF Nomar Mazara From Rangers

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Photo Cred: NBC Chicago

Full Trade: White Sox Acquire OF Nomar Mazara From Rangers In Exchange For OF Steele Walker

Grade: 6.5/10

In an under-the-radar trade, the White Sox have acquired outfielder Nomar Mazara from the Rangers for outfield prospect Steele Walker. For Chicago, this is definitely a bet on Mazara’s untapped potential, as he was once seen as a top prospect, but owns a 92 career wrc+ and 1.7 WAR in four seasons in the MLB. Can he reach that ceiling? Well, his expected statistics are slightly better than his surface-level numbers, but not by much, and a lot of his issues are with his plate discipline; he had just a 6% walk rate with a 23% strikeout rate. Plus, he’s also a below-average defender, so at the moment, he doesn’t provide much value at all. I would’ve been all-in for a rebuilding team to take a shot on Mazara, but for a team trying to contend to make such a risky acquisition, while also giving up a solid prospect, just doesn’t make sense to me.

White Sox Sign SP Gio Gonzalez

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Photo Cred: Bleed Cubbie Blue

Contract Details: One Year, $4.5 Million ($7 Million Club Option For 2020 With $500K Buyout)

Grade: 7.5/10

Adding a veteran starter to a very young rotation, the White Sox have brought in Gio Gonzalez on a one-year contract. Gonzalez, 34, has been very consistent for the Brewers over the past two seasons, as he’s posted xFIPs of 4.44 and 4.45, respectively. He definitely has some fatal flaws, such as a poor K-BB ratio, but on the bright side, he does do a great job of limiting hard contact, and brings plenty of value as a stable veteran mentor. He’s not exactly someone who is going to eat many innings or be effective, so there were definitely better options, but for a team that needs as many starting pitchers as possible, I certainly don’t hate this deal for Chicago.

White Sox Sign SP Dallas Keuchel

keuchel
Photo Cred: NBC Sports

Contract Details: Three Years, $55.5 Million (Vesting Option For Fourth Year Worth $18.5 Million If He Pitches 160+ Innings In 2021 and 2022)

Grade: 6/10

Finally adding the veteran pitcher that their fans have been clamoring for, the White Sox have signed starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel to a three-year contract worth $55.5 million. The deal also comes with a vesting option for 2023, which will go into effect if he reaches 160 innings pitched in 2021 and 2022, which is very attainable. After all, the former Cy Young award winner accumulated 204.2 innings pitched in 2018, and had he signed with a team earlier than June, he probably would’ve reached that last season as well. Overall, his 4.06 xFIP labels him as he is- a soft-throwing, ground-ball inducing middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. Yet, there are red flags that his non-traditional strategy may be catching for him. The 31-year-old allowed much more hard contact (36.8%) last season, and although his 60.1% ground ball rate was still above-average, it’s below where he was during his peak seasons. Plus, his command was also worse last season, which is concerning given the little margin for error he has as sub-90-MPH fastball pitcher. There’s no doubting that Keuchel will be a nice presence in the locker room for a young White Sox team. However, he’s being paid to be a front-line starting pitcher (who he once was), and that’s not what they’re getting at all; the vesting option is the icing on the cake given how likely it is that he’ll reach the requirements, but overall, this is a really bad deal for the White Sox.

White Sox Sign DH/1B Edwin Encarnacion

encarnacion
Photo Cred: Forbes

Contract Details: One Year, $12 Million ($12 Million Club Option 2021)

Grade: 8/10

Continuing on with their extremely busy offseason, the White Sox have added another well-known player. This time, it’s designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion on a one-year deal worth $12 million and a club option for 2021; essentially the exact deal Nelson Cruz signed with the Twins last offseason, which worked out tremendously for them. Between the Yankees and Mariners, the 36-year-old posted a 129 wrc+ and 2.5 fWAR, as his combination of plate discipline and power has made him a very consistent hitter for several seasons. Undoubtedly, the White Sox are adding a much-needed impact hitter to their young lineup, but was Encarnacion the right fit? With Abreu at first base and Encarnacion as the designated hitter, Chicago has lost a lot of lineup flexibility, and with Andrew Vaughn likely to be ready by the 2021 season, the club option is meaningless; Encarnacion is also not as good of a player as Cruz, and struggled versus fastballs last season, which could be a sign of him declining with age. There’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal, but I do wonder if Chicago’s resources would’ve been better spent elsewhere.

White Sox Extend OF Luis Robert

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Photo Cred: Off The Bench Baseball

Contract Details: Six Years, $50 Million With Two Club Options- Can Reach Eight Years, $88 Million

Grade: 8/10

Continuing on with a trend that’s become common in recent years, the White Sox have extended a top prospect before he even plays a game in the majors- they’ve signed Cuban outfielder Luis Robert to an extension that can last eight years. Robert, 22, is ranked as the third-best prospect at MLB.Com, which would make this appear to be a steal. However, I’m not as high on him, as his inability to draw walks and high strikeout rates are concerning, and a lot of his minor-league success has come off of a high batting average on balls in play. His power and athleticism cannot be denied, and even if Robert becomes more of the 3-4 WAR outfielder that I think he’ll be, similar to Carlos Gomez, this will be ultimately a good move for the White Sox. It’s just not the steal that many are claiming it to be, though, on the bright side, it gets him on the opening day roster.

White Sox Sign RP Steve Cishek

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Photo Cred: WGN-TV

Contract Details: One Year, $6 Million ($6.75 Club Opton 2021)

Grade: 8.5/10

Staying locally to add a veteran reliever, the White Sox have signed reliever Steve Cishek to a one-year deal. The 6’6″ righty gets to stay in Chicago after two seasons with the Cubs, and now, will go to the South Side, and to a team that needs him much more. It wasn’t a great season last year for the 33-year-old, who struck out fewer batters (8.02 K/9) and walked more (4.02 BB/9), and as a result, his xFIP skyrocketed to 4.95. However, he ranked in the 99th percentile in exit velocity allowed and hard hit% allowed, and he also induced ground balls at an impressive 50% clip. Therefore, if he can get his command back on track, then he should be a solid reliever for the White Sox, and regardless, he’s a nice option to have. I haven’t been a fan of many of the team’s moves, but this is a nice attempt to sign a reliever coming off of a poor season.

White Sox Extend RP Aaron Bummer

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Photo Cred: NBC Sports

Contract Details: Five Years, $16 Million ($1M 2020, $2M 2021, $2.5M 2022, $3.75M 2023, $5.5M 2024, $7.5M Club Options 2025 and 2026)

Grade: 9.5/10

The White Sox have not been shy to extend their young players, and it doesn’t appear that they’ve relented on that approach whatsoever- they’ve signed reliever Aaron Bummer to the largest non-closer extension in MLB history. Bummer, 26, has just one year of service time, so the guarantees of the contract will cover his entire pre-arbitration and arbitration process, while the two club options can buy out his first two years of free agency. The White Sox bullpen may have struggled last season, but he certainly wasn’t a part of those issues; in 67.2 innings, he posted a 3.49 xFIP with a 2.13 ERA. Notably, Bummer isn’t a major strikeout (7.98 K/9 in 2019) pitcher, and he’ll never have great strikeout to walk ratios (2.50 in 2019). However, he induces ground balls at a utterly absurd rate (72.1%) with a sinker he utilized heavily (67.7%) in 2019. Therefore, his xwOBA (.255, 96th percentile) and xSLG (.281, 99th percentile) were simply fantastic, and if his average launch angle allowed remains in the negatives (-3.4 in 2019), he’ll be able to constantly outperform his statistics. This is a very small amount for the White Sox to pay in order to potentially have him under club control through his entire prime; it’s a low risk-high reward scenario, which makes it a excellent deal.

White Sox Extend 3B Yoan Moncada

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Photo Cred: NBC Sports

Contract Details: Five Years, $70 Million ($4 Million Bonus, $1M 2020, $6M 2021, $13M 2022, $17M 2023, $24M 2024, $25 Million Club Option 2025)

Grade: 7/10

General manager Rick Hahn just can’t help himself; the White Sox have agreed to a contract extension with yet another young player. This time, it’s third baseman Yoan Moncada in the form of a five-year deal worth $70 million. Since he had four years left of club control, this will potentially buy out two years of the 24-year-old’s free agent years, and keep him in the South Side through his age 30 season. A former top prospect that was the centerpiece of a trade that sent Chris Sale to the Red Sox, Moncada really blossomed into a star last season, posting a 5.7 fWAR and 141 wrc+. Now, he did do so with an absurd .406 BABIP, but he still posted an 81st percentile xwOBA (.362), as he  hit the ball with a lot of hard contact (47.4% hard-hit). At the same time, his major increases in his chase rate (32.9%) and swinging strike rate (13.9%) are super alarming, and he did hit more ground balls (42.3%) as well. In other words, I’m not sure his offensive improvement is as legitimate as many make it out to be, making this is a very risky move by the White Sox. Plus, when looking at the year-to-year salaries of the deal, outside of 2023, I don’t see any other year where they’ll be saving much money, which is a little puzzling. This is a great extension for the player, but in the team’s perspective, I’m not a fan, and it appears Hahn may have gotten a bit too trigger-happy.

*Will Be Updated With Every Move The White Sox Make

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